Combining chickens or waterfowl is a lot like combining families, it takes time and patience and is best done in stages. flocks have hierarchies known as “pecking orders” which allows each bird a secure place in the family, but, when new members are introduced that is disturbed until a new pecking order is made and this process upsets everyone involved, old and new and you.
Whether you are introducing juveniles or adults, if they are new to your operation, you must quarantine them for their safety as well as the safety of your existing flock. Without getting into all the types of diseases that could be transmitted, suffice it to say that birds are very sensitive to new organisms that are introduced into their living and ranges areas. The new birds may be resistant to the diseases they carry but your birds are not; so you have to keep them apart to ensure both groups safety.
The length of time for quarantine isn’t an exact science but 15 to 18 weeks is a good standard. During this time your new birds will be treated for worms, lice and mites. And, you’ll be feeding them the same feeds as your existing birds so their systems get adjusted. After the first 4 to 6 weeks you can begin the step of “Visual Integration” – let your birds see each other. For example, if your existing birds free-range, put your new birds in pens out in the free-range area, this way each group begins the process of recognizing the other and their place in the pecking order. The more visual time they get together the easier the physical integration becomes. Stress can bring on illness in birds, so visual integration is a great way to help ensure a healthy integration process.
Before you make the final step to full integration, make sure that you have all your birds-in-a-row…have multiple feeders, waterers, and nests available so the old girls can’t keep the new girls from sustenance. Have your distracters in place; flock blocks; apples on sticks; hanging cabbage or my favorite, a big pile of mulch for everyone to play in.
When the time finally comes to put them together, do it at night. When they wake up together they will still have some issues to work out but they are not nearly as stressful when they are given the opportunity to slowly wake up together.
When introducing chicks the quarantine time can be less if you are feeding medicated chick starter and have good sanitation practices in your brooders and pens. Quarantine still needs to happen but they can be integrated in 3 to 4 weeks. Visual integration is still very helpful and distracters such as chunks of apples are a good idea. After integration, if they start pecking or eating each other it means they are either too hot or too crowded, not that they aren’t integrating properly. But, never integrate juveniles with adults until the juveniles are at least pigeon size, this helps ensure that they are big enough to protect themselves.
Vaccines and Medications
The biggest concern with birds, of any size, that have been transported is Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD) so be sure to treat for this immediately. Tylan and Terramycin powder are good to used for treating CRD. Vitamins are essential for health and sustained growth and help prevent stress-induced weight loss. It never hurts to add a little Gatorade, sugar or powdered electrolytes to their water either, this helps prevent dehydration and keeps their strength up.
Some folks are just more aggressive than others and the same is true of fowl. If you’ve got some bullies in the flock that are determined not to allow peaceful integration then you need to consider removing them from the flock for at least a week. This will allow the new pecking order to get established and when you put the bullies back in the the pen they will find themselves to be the new interlopers and will have to be much more cooperative. In rare instances it might be necessary to permanently remove troublemakers from the group in order to provide a stress-free environment.
Integration takes time and effort but insures the continued good health and safety of your flock. Taking these steps is a proven way to integrate with less stress for everyone.